No ‘me time’ in this job

  • Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Staff photo by Tyler Heffernan Jeff Church has been director of operations for the Family Circle Cup since it came to Daniel Island 12 years ago.

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Jeff Church has a list of phrases on the wall behind his desk. Most are light-hearted and posted to invoke a chuckle.

One reads: “I need some me time.”

Church, the director of operations for the Family Circle Cup, has a job with an effort-to-recognition ratio similar to that of a referee. If things are running smoothly, the man behind the controlled chaos isn’t the first one people think to thank.

The “I need some me time” mention came to fruition about two years ago during preparations for the tournament. “We were driving a 100-foot lift down the street trying to get it in the back gate,” Church said. “This lift was being temperamental – as soon as you touched it one way or the other, the whole thing would turn.

“You got a 100-foot long piece sticking out, and it goes on this side of traffic and this side of traffic,” he said, motioning with his arms. “So, finally, I just stopped in the middle of the road. My assistant was on one end and my intern was on the other. I’m just standing in this lift, jumping up and down and going, ‘Go, go, go!’

“They’re like, ‘You need some me time.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I do.’”

The brief quote is farther down the list, but what’s at the top of the list is the popular phrase coining what you want and what you need are two different things.

Church doesn’t work normal work weeks leading up to the largest women’s-only tournament in the world. His adrenaline flows in conjunction with tennis volleys and forklifts. “Before the tournament starts, we’re talking 15 hours a day, seven days of week from the 11th to the 29th of March,” Church estimated. “You do the math.”

Here’s the math: that’s 285 hours over 19 consecutive days. That means Church will spend 63 percent of the total time elapsed from March 11-29 managing all the different facets of his job. The typical person working a full-time job of 40 hours per week will spend 26 percent of that time working.

“It’s about a 3-hour-a-night sleep method,” Church said. What are all the different facets of his job?

“I’m responsible for phones, internet, tents, furniture, security, police, ambulance, TV productions, stadium court productions, recycling, ecology, bleachers and anything else that blows up,” he said. “Anything that goes wrong is going to come under my plate.”

The Family Circle Cup, to be held March 30-April 9, is a yearly work in progress.

Pre-planning is crucial, especially determining a detailed load-in schedule so different vendors aren’t prohibiting each other from setting up while at the Family Circle Tennis Center.

March 11 will be the first day of load ins.

“If your pre-planning is completed, and you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s and are ready to do the work, everything should fall into place,” he said.

Currently, operations are ahead of schedule. The clay for center court was replaced, which involved 52 tons of clay, and all that remains is painting the lines.

The next major operation will be the loading schedule. Church, who has the same title since the Family Circle Cup moved to Daniel Island 12 years ago, relies on positive relationships with long-time vendors. “They make my jobs easier,” he said. “I’ll handle the fires when the fires come up, but if it’s a simmering pot, they can usually handle it.”

In 2006, a tornado hit the front of the stadium and inflected “some damage to everything.” Church called vendors, and together, they were able to re-open the next day without a delay. “It was on a Saturday after qualifying.

The matches were over, thank goodness,” he said.

“They came in at 11:30 at night, and we worked until 3 o’clock that morning.” The next day was a success, because the tornado’s damage was not visible and ticket holders resumed watching some of the world’s best tennis players and participating in other activities.

“My success and failure rate is seeing people enjoying themselves,” Church said.

During tournament time, his duties don’t dwindle. Regularly scheduled responsibilities, such as working closely with television productions, couple with any necessary on-the-fly changes. And, when the tournament is over, Church still doesn’t have time to hibernate. “Once it’s over, you take maybe a month where you’re recuperating and then after that, the process starts again,” he said. But, that means taking a month off from thinking about the Family Circle Cup, not from work altogether.

“It’d be nice to say I could take time off after that,” he said. “You get Saturdays and Sundays off again until we start our concert season (beginning in May).” Don’t forget about the Home and Design Show held in late April, which Church will also play an integral role in operations.

On June 1, pre-planning for the 2014 Family Circle Cup begins. Bye, bye, me time.

“My phone rings constantly. People kid me and say, ‘How do you do multi-task?’ I can have somebody on the phone, somebody calling me on the radio and someone standing in front of me with three different conversations and answer all three of them,” Church said.

“You just get used to it after a while.”

Above Church’s wall of phrases is a large photograph of center court in use at a Family Circle Cup. Me time might be somewhere beneath the 52 tons of clay.

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